Where's my coffee?!
I am someone who needs their cup of coffee as soon as they wake up. My first 10 minutes of every day is spent brewing my cup. A lifelong habit of “coffee first”, I used to start my day looking like a zombie and walking over to my coffee maker. Over the past decade, given my rather strange waking up time (3.45 am), I have come to depend on the morning coffee. Even though I do wake up rather alert, I get anxious if I cannot have coffee before I head to coach.
In fact, I am used to having 2 cups before I leave to coach. And quite often, take a third cup in my coffee flask to sip on during the next 3 hours.
If you are dependent on your coffee, are prone to energy crashes during the day, read on. I'll explain how you can use your coffee to your advantage, reduce your energy crashes, fall asleep faster and sleep better.
Heat, not the coffee
Here is a fact that I already know - it takes a few minutes for the coffee to make its way into your system. The effect is not instantaneous. There is a bit of a placebo effect going on.
I learned a bit more about the mechanism from Dr Andrew Huberman. I learned that a key factor behind waking up with a hot mug of coffee is the heat. It raises the internal body temperature.
As part of our waking up process, our body temperature goes up. Which is why, most often, you will find that you wake up with your hands and feet outside of the sheets when you wake up. You are feeling a bit warm and exposing a few bits helps you feel not so warm.
How coffee itself works is that the molecules go and sit into receptors where another molecule (adenosine) goes and sits. Adenosine inhibits arousal and when you wake up, there are bits of it floating around. They generally get cleared in a bit but before they get cleared, we have the coffee. So, they are mucking about with nowhere to go. Much later in the day, when the coffee wears out, we feel sleepy because the adenosine is going to those receptors. To beat them away, we have more coffee.
A new mental model
So, contrary to what I used to believe, here's how the system works.
- A mug of hot liquid raises the internal body temperature. Raising internal body temperature is part of the body's natural process of waking up.
- Caffeine blocks receptors of adenosine. The more sleep debt you have, the more adenosine there is floating around your system. It is important that the adenosine is cleared from the system. Caffeine temporarily negates the effect but it leads to a crash later in the day.
- Delaying your morning coffee by 1-2 hours after waking up is a great idea.
Well, easier said than done. How does one actually go about it? Well, based on two months of experimentation, here are my learnings.
A new morning routine
- As soon as you wake up, have a glass of hot water. You can add some lemon or ginger or vinegar to it, if you like. But the key is the temperature of the fluid is hot.
- Assuming the sun is out, go out immediately and get some sun. You don't need to be in direct sunlight, you don't need to get into a staring match with the sun. Just be outside, in the presence of sunlight. If you wake up before the sun is up, switch on bright overhead lights in your house as you go about your morning.
- Walk for 15 minutes. Again, nothing aggressive. But just get some movement going.
- Throw in a set of squats and pushups every couple of minutes to get even more blood going.
This will get you feeling alert and awake. You can work on delaying your morning brew a bit, and slowly work up to 60 minutes.
Over the past 8 weeks, I've realised that this is totally doable. I've also seen some interesting effects that I did not expect.
- My coffee consumption has reduced by about half.
- I don't need my afternoon coffee, as the crash in the latter half of the day does not happen.
- My alertness levels during the first half of the day, which have always been rather high, has increased.
- My resting heart rate has dropped by a few points.
- Falling asleep in the night has become even easier.
If you like to experiment, I highly recommend this experiment. It sounds scary, if you are dependent on coffee like I am. But totally doable.
This is one of those places where learning the inner workings of the body directly contributes to tweaking a routine to make it work better for you.
Use mental models to your advantage.